The Texas Longhorns struggled at times in their last non-conference game of the season, but pulled away in the final three minutes to beat the Rice Owls 66-55. Owl forward Seth Gearhart led all scorers with 24 points, while Myles Turner, Jonathan Holmes, and Javan Felix chipped in 16, 12, and 10 points, respectively.
If we were to try to sum up this game with a single word, that word would be sloppy. Both teams turned the ball over 16 times, meaning that roughly one out of every four offensive possessions ended in a turnover.
Rice's defensive pressure gave Texas a lot of trouble, inducing several turnovers on the initial in bounds pass, and the Owl opportunistic trapping frequently caught Texas off guard. Additionally, Texas just gave the ball away a few times as well. Since Isaiah Taylor went down with an injury, turnovers have been the thing that has most held the Texas Longhorns back. This is not a game that provided much for the Demarcus Holland -- point guard highlight reel.
At the other end of the floor Rice spread the Longhorn defense out, set ball screens, and forced all five players to defend the three point line. Late in the first half, the Texas defense responded by going to a zone, which held the Owls scoreless for the last four and a half minutes of the first period. But this was fool's gold against a team like Rice that gets its best offense from deep shots, and Texas' limited attempts to play zone in the second half generally led to wide open threes.
6-7 senior Seth Gearhart gave the Texas big men a lot of trouble, particularly freshman Myles Turner, who struggled to defend a three point shooting big man who can also put the ball on the floor and go to the basket. Gearhart was 4-8 from beyond the arc, and when Turner pressured his shot he frequently found chances to attack off the bounce. Turner is an outstanding interior defender -- perhaps the best on the team -- but 20 feet from the basket he is just another guy, and Gearhart took him to school.
Down the stretch, it was Jonathan Holmes who defended Gearhart, who was shut out for the last five minutes of the game. This sort of pattern is likely to pop up again when Texas plays Iowa State and Georges Niang.
The spread offense pulled Texas' rim protectors away from the hoop, and Rice was able to convert on 13-25 from inside the arc, which is easily the highest two point shooting percentage the Texas defense has allowed all year. The Texas defense still limited Rice to less than a point per possession, but this was largely due to the fact that Rice was even sloppier with the ball than Texas was, committing 16 turnovers of their own.
On the offensive end, Myles Turner and Jonathan Holmes carried Texas. Turner scored 16 points shooting 6-7 from the floor and 2-3 from the free throw line, and Jonathan Holmes salvaged an ugly 4-14 shooting, three turnover game by grabbing eight offensive rebounds.
- When is Isaiah Taylor coming back? Hopefully for the Longhorns it will happen soon, as Texas' turnover problems have held back what otherwise would be an exceptional offense. The Longhorns shot the ball miserably against Rice, but this hasn't been a common occurrence this season. Coming into this afternoon's game, Rick Barnes' squad was shooting 52 percent from inside the arc, 35 percent from three point range, and 74 percent from the free throw line. Throw in the fact that Texas is one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country, and the only thing standing between the Longhorns and a top-flight offense is turnovers.
- The problem with the turnovers is that you can't attribute them to just one player. Today, every Longhorn who played more than 10 minutes had at least one, and Jonathan Holmes, Kendal Yancy, and Demarcus Holland all had three each.
- Javan Felix had a mostly quiet but effective game. His 10 points on 3-6 shooting from the floor with two assists and two turnovers is a solid statistical line, and his ball handling against the Rice pressure was critical. Holland was off his game handling against a press that looks to speed up ball handlers and get them racing up the sideline -- the best approach to secure the ball against match up pressure is to calmly bring the ball up the floor.
- I am interested to see how this Rice team fares in the coming seasons. College basketball history has taught us many times that building a program around a full court pressure defense works. It will be interesting to see if it works for Rice.
The non-conference season is now over. Texas starts the new year with its first Big 12 game, on the road against Texas Tech on Saturday, January 3.